Our “Do Not Attempt in Heels: Mission Stories and Advice from Sisters Who’ve Been There” project technically began eight months ago but the approach of the compilation had its origins on a sidewalk in the middle of the Amazon, about 10 years ago while I was serving as a full-time missionary.
I noticed then that over the past few days my companion, who was new to the mission, was acting more distant, so I suggested that we set aside time to talk. We sat on a concrete ledge on the sidewalk and she began to cry. She told me that she felt weak. She wasn’t quite sure that she was up to the task of her mission. This was no slouch of a sister, either. This was a Berkeley grad who had memorized the discussions in record time, who practically ran out the door with me each morning, who’d lovingly say, “1, 2, 3, Deal with it” whenever I complained about the heat. She cheerfully complied with all my kooky ideas (like singing hymns on the bus to rows of slightly annoyed strangers), and she loved the members and the people we were teaching as much as I did. But there she was, hunched over on the sidewalk, upset that she hadn’t found her footing yet as a missionary.
I put my arm around her and told her how strong she really was. That sort of helped. What really helped was opening my mission journal, which I had brought along to cheer her up. I turned to the entries about my first few weeks in the mission field. I read her the story of how I managed to lose the apartment key on day three of the mission, which led my trainer and I to seek shelter at the stake president’s house instead (where his wife kindly lent us her pajamas). We read a journal entry about the number of mosquito bites I counted on my skin after one week in the mission—over 100—and how I couldn’t seem to stop sweating. We read about the way the new language gave me headaches, the way I’d cry at random times, and how I wasn’t sure I would ever become much more than a mute flipchart-holder for my senior companion. Somehow, all of that really, really helped her. We walked home laughing.
In “Do Not Attempt in Heels,” we and the contributors tell our stories with the goal of helping future missionaries—many who will be younger than we were—to hang in there when they run into challenges on their missions. We want these young women to know that they’re not the first people to ever encounter these problems, and that they can absolutely get through them, especially with the Savior on their side.
Many of our authors tell stories about navigating trials like empty schedules, homesickness, or self-defeating perfectionism. Pre-emptive problem-solving isn’t the only goal of this book, though. We also want these essays to show them just what they’re capable of accomplishing. We share the things we did right—wisdom about how to use scriptures (a lot!), how to discern promptings, how to appreciate and use the unique spiritual gifts we all have, and how to maintain good health on the mission. Each author tells her story in the spirit of a seasoned senior companion, who’s trying to encourage the new girl, make her laugh, and help her to see that she can do it, after all.
Ed. note: Hahl compiled “Do Not Attempt in Heels” with Jennifer Rockwood Knight. The book will be released on Feb. 11, 2014, and includes an assortment of essays from returned sister missionaries, including hip-hop violinist Lindsey Stirling. A few Cedar Fort employees, who are also returned sister missionaries, have contributed essays that appear on the book’s website.
Elise Babbel Hahl is a mother of four, freelance writer, editor, and recent graduate of the M.A. in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins. Her oldest son, Caleb, wants her to be his companion on his mission, so she’s about a decade away from another adventure. In the meantime, she enjoys running, playing the piano, and trying different Brazilian restaurants with her husband.